The Student Cities Summit Days Three to Four. Rescuing Starfish!

Pic: Science With Myrt

The final two days of the Student Cities Summit have been fast paced and hard hitting. The past two days have shown a flurry of creative activity and intense conversation on ways to effect change in student’s lives now.

There was major discussion on how to avoid becoming bogged down in chatter, to ensure that the delegates representing South Africa’s tertiary institutions do not lose sight of the human beings whose issues they are seeking solutions to.

There were many highlights – which I will mention later – but something that particularly stuck with me were Professor Cecil Bodibe’s words. He addressed the delegates on Tuesday and his charm and eloquence were the vehicles that delivered a speech of solutions.

Professor Bodibe mentioned one analogy which resonated with me which I will entitle Rescuing Starfish. I will paraphrase the story he told and the connections he made to how we can assist students in this country.

“Every day when the high tide ebbs away the beach is littered with thousands of tiny starfish borne helplessly onto the sand by the water. The starfish must then make their way back into the water before the sun reaches its zenith when they will perish. A young child runs up and down the shore throwing each starfish she finds back into the blue. Tirelessly he works. A voice causes her to pause.

“What are you doing? You will never help all of them. You realise this is an exercise in futility?” A man passing by asks. The child silently reaches down, plucks a starfish from the sand and gently places it back into the water. She looks up at the man and says. “Yes. But I made a difference to that one.”

This story captures what the summit has really been about: how to help students. Professor Bodibe introduced the idea of Return on Character (R.O.C) and Return on Investment (R.O.I). R.O.C is constituted from one’s Moral Intelligence. Moral Intelligence is about self-actualisation. It rests on the four pillars of integrity, responsibility, forgiveness and compassion. These are things we need to cultivate in students and demand from our leaders. It is in this line of thought that we can redefine our cities and demand something different from its members.

Programmes need to be tailored around students and not the other way around – a point which speaker Thuli Radebe addressed. Ms Radebe represented the Centre for Public Service Innovation. This small department develops solutions to problems across South Africa in collaboration with other governmental departments. Ms Radebe spoke of ways to address the drop out challenges that students experience. This concept was taken up by the next speaker Nasima Badsha from the Cape Higher Education Consortium who further emphasised the need for partnerships between institutions.

Professor Hendriks presented a very interesting talk on the University of Pretoria’s ‘Neighbourhood Anchor strategy’ which builds on some of the things brought up by Ms Cama within the Ohio State University but under a different title. Professor Hendrick’ talk focused on the impending ‘experiment’ in Hatfield to rejuvenate the area to ensure the university’s sustainability.

This strategy is an attempt to prevent urban decay from occurring in the areas around the university by implementing a rejuvenation in a ‘campus village’. This pilot would be dubbed the ‘Hatfield Campus Village’.

There is an interdependence between the institutions and community and this needs to be acknowledged in order to be improve that cohesion. This can only result in the daily conditions of the average student being improved.

These are all complex innovations which are all geared towards trying to improve the basic student experience because if the infrastructure and support services can be gotten right, then students will have the framework that will better allow them success and the areas around them promised sustainability.